Obama Buys Half-Hour of Network Prime-Time TV

LOS ANGELES Barack Obama has purchased a half-hour of prime-time television on CBS and NBC, according to sources.

The Obama campaign is producing a nationwide pitch to voters that will air on at least two broadcast networks. The ad will run Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m. — less than a week before the general election.

The direct purchase of such a large block of national airtime used to be more commonplace before campaigns began to focus their endgame strategies exclusively on battleground states. Such a move is not without precedent in modern presidential politics, however — Ross Perot did a similar purchase in 1992.

The special is a smart move for the Obama campaign, said Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia.

“Obama’s theme is not just change but unity, so he’s appealing to the whole nation rather than a handful of toss-up states,” Sabato said. “He wants to win the popular vote by a good margin, which will enable him to govern.”

And he’s got the cash for it, Sabato said.

“This is another indication, if there needs to be any more, that Barack Obama’s got more money than [available] television time to buy,” said Evan Tracey, COO of the Campaign Media Analysis Group in Arlington, Va.

Whether John McCain’s campaign will do the same remains to be seen, though there’s one big thing moving against it: money. Unlike Obama, who rejected public financing of the presidential campaign, McCain is accepting it. That means the McCain camp is limited in the amount of money that it can spend and raise, and in its TV buying has been limited mostly to ads in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida.

“There will be no second-guessing the Obama campaign on decisions involving resources,” Tracey said. “He’s not doing this and pulling down [ad] buys in Florida. This is not an either/or decision. They’ve got 25 days and unlimited amounts of money.”

Neither Sabato nor Tracey could say whether the McCain campaign could buy its own time on the networks, even if it wanted to, because of the cost involved. The networks are obligated to offer the similar time and the same price to McCain. After Obama bought about $5 million worth of ads in the Summer Olympics telecasts including national time, McCain bought about $6 million worth. But now, with money and time being tight, it might be more difficult with making hard choices. The McCain camp has already pulled its ads from Michigan, once considered a key battleground state.

“This is where Obama being off public financing really boxes in McCain,” Tracey said. “I don’t think this is a move that the McCain campaign would be able to match.”

Beyond Perot’s 30-minute campaign ads in the last month of the 1992 presidential campaign, you have to reach back even further for similar instances. Sabato said that national broadcasts were not uncommon in the 1960s and early 1970s, when TV time wasn’t as expensive and the current campaign financing limits weren’t in place. It’s also a common strategy for candidates for statewide offices to patch together stations on a statewide telecast.

CBS and NBC reps declined comment. Sources said the Obama camp also talked to Fox, but the network might not be able to accommodate the campaign as the time period might conflict with a potential Game 6 of the World Series.

The buy will push CBS comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine to 8:30 p.m. and preempt Gary Unmarried. NBC typically airs the hour-long Knight Rider in the slot, and will likely throw in a comedy repeat at 8:30 p.m. The buy is being placed by Washington-based ad firm GMMB. Obama’s ad will air on the night before the start of November sweeps.